The Klamath Pearl, a gem of a tuber
(Note: What a tasty way to support the farmers of the Klamath Basin! I fully intend to 'savor the flavor' and enjoy 'a taste of the Klamath Basin' the first chance I get!)
March 25, 2004
By Brian Cole
The Herald and News
Klamath Falls, Oregon
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A little potato brings a lot of pluses to the table, market
Last December, a delegation from the Klamath Basin potato industry visited some of San Francisco's pricey restaurants.
The delegation went to the city to introduce a new potato, called the Klamath Pearl, to do test marketing. The group, including grower Dan Chin, gave 20-pound boxes to several restaurants in the downtown area.
They had a lot of restaurants to choose from.
A recent report by the Associated Press said the City by the Bay has about 4,000 restaurants and bars. Put another way, you could visit a different eatery every day for nearly 11 years and not eat at the same place twice.
With a population of about 750,000 packed into 50 square miles, San Francisco is one of the country's smallest major cities. And the restaurant business is one of its biggest industries.
The Klamath Pearl was also presented to several Berkeley, California, restaurateurs.
Meanwhile, the specialty potato is on the menu at McGrath's Fish House restaurants in Oregon and Washington. The chain's executive chef recently featured the Klamath Pearl with fresh halibut.
"The chef was extremely pleased with the flavor, versatility and the consistent quality (of the potato)," Chin said.
Soon, an effort will be made to sell the Klamath Pearl to large chain restaurants, such as Red Lobster and Outback Steakhouse.
For the past three years, several Basin growers and the University of California Intermountain Research and Extension Center have been cultivating the tiny tuber.
As an agricultural product, the Klamath Pearl has several advantages, including:
Although it's only about two inches across, yields per acre are expected to be about the same as larger potatoes, such as Russets.
It has a shorter growing season (75 days), so requires less water than other Basin-grown potatoes, such as the Russet Burbank which must be irrigated for 105 to 120 days.
The taste and texture of the Klamath Pearl makes it ideal in cold salads and specialty potato dishes. It is a white potato which remains firm and keeps its skin after boiling.
Klamath Basin Fresh Direct, a privately owned company based in Merrill, is leading the effort to market the specialty potato. The company is owned by unit holders that include: Malin Potato Co-op, Newell Potato Co-op, Cal-Ore Produce and 10 individuals.
Last year, seven acres were used to grow the Klamath Pearl on three Basin fields. Growers yielded about 200 hundredweight (cwt) per acre, for a total of 1,400 cwt.
This year, Fresh Direct could grow the specialty potato on as many as 20 acres.
"The Klamath Basin has about 12,000 acres of potatoes," said grower John Cross. "We'd like to see 10 percent of that be Klamath Pearls."
The potato was a huge hit with Paul Canalis, chef at the Berkeley restaurant "Oliveto." He boiled, roasted, fried and mashed the potato.
It looks and feels like a baby salad potato, it puffs and fluffs like a russet, Canalis said. He added that the best way to cook the Klamath Pearl is to preboil it to bring the potato's sugars to the surface, then fry them to carmelize them.
This process yields a complex sweet flavor and a nice texture and color, he said, different and better than any other potato he has worked with.
Fresh Direct has made the Klamath Pearl available to Basin restaurants and grocers.